I was browsing Instagram the evening after my daughter’s swim meet to find a post of her large plate of fries she consumed at Glory Days as her post-meet meal. The picture was an ever prevailing reminder that teens and Nutrition is a serious challenge. Therefore nutrition in these young athletes is on my mind. Most parents of sport playing kids are constantly on the run. Multiple kids in multiple locations creates the challenging of feeding the kids even worse. So many parents resort to the quick options like the Chick-fil-a drive thru, Chipotle, Potbelly, and the like sound like healthier choices than McDonalds and Burger King but really they all are not giving our children the nutrients they need as growing athletes. High School kids eating candy, Gatorade and pizza from the Snack Shack right before practice are not giving themselves the right foods to perform. Frankly, eating out at all is not the answer either if you want healthy, well performing athletes. I say that eating out in not a good option because most kids chose unhealthy options; Hamburgers, pizza, chicken nuggets do not give an athlete the nutrients they need to recover from the exercise they just had. Most kids are not choosing to make at least half their foods plant based foods. However, a lifestyle of eating half the days consumption in plants (fruits and veggies) as well as healthy proteins is what all kids need to prep their bodies for the activity and recover afterwards.
What should kids and teens be eating if they play a lot of sports? They should be getting foods that will give them energy before a work out and foods that replenish the nutrients they lost after the work out. A pre-workout/practice snack should be protein-rich. Protein and WHOLE grains are where it is at. Here are some examples: ½ a cup of Nuts or trail mix (without the M&M’s) with a piece of fruit, fruit and cheese, a whole grain English muffin with Peanut butter, a whole grain bagel with butter or peanut butter, a cup of whole grain pasta with tomato sauce or olive oil/butter and parmesan cheese, a hard boiled egg, 2 eggs fried in coconut oil.
Why whole grain? What is wrong with a regular bagel and cream cheese? Refined processed flour turns into sugar in the body. Whole grains cause a slow release of sugar into the body so the energy sustains longer. So let’s say you have a glass of juice and a regular bagel with cream cheese before a game or a meet. Sounds like energy right? WRONG! The body burns the refined carbohydrates quickly. Once they are burned off you have a sugar crash; which would be when? Right in the middle of your game or meet! You want to be on your mental game for your game. Fueling up on quality protein and whole grains will give you: faster body reaction times, improved athleticism and better coordination. (USA Hockey Magazine)
In terms of boosting your mental and physical game, cream cheese has no added value in terms of nutrients so skip the cream cheese on a bagel. It’s a processed cheese product. Nut butters or hummus are better choices for a spread or dip to put on your whole grain product.
So what makes a whole grain? Look for label that say 100% whole grain. Look at the ingredient list and look for whole grain words in the list. Then look at the nutritional facts. There should be at least 3 grams of fiber per serving of the whole grain item you are eating. Fresh baked breads that use 100% stone ground wheat, breads with nuts and seeds added, and breads that use sprouted grains are the best choices for sustaining energy and avoiding the crash mid-game.
When do you eat the pregame meal? 2 hours before the game or meet. If you are under an hour limiting the meal to a snack size is best. If you eat too close to the game your body will be putting all its energy into digesting the food and not focused on optimal performance.
What should you eat to recover after a game or a long work out? This is when you want a quick digesting carbohydrate. Do not be fooled though. If you have not had an intense work out that has lasted longer than one hour, you do not need to load up on refueling. The average 8 year old playing soccer does not need a post work out snack like a high school athlete does. The prefect recovery for a elementary school rec league soccer game is pure simple water (8 ounces) and a banana. For high school athletes who are having a couple hour work out, a post work out drink with a high quality protein powder or a homemade smoothie is a good option. I still maintain that good old water and some fruit is your best bet for a quick snack right after the workout for the ride home. Gatorade is not the best option for athletes. Experimenting with what works best for each body is key. Everyone is different. The point of post work out recovery is replenishing the glycogen stores quickly. It is not the time to eat a big mac. A homemade smoothie that you have made in advance is a great solution; for example: a smoothie with almond milk, honey, banana, other fruit, and some leafy greens like Kale or spinach is a great choice.
The 1-2 hours after the game or meet is when your body needs that high quality meal. Focusing on getting some foods that are anti-inflammatory and not processed are key to good recovery. This is when you want the whole grain pasta, a sweet potato, quality animal protein like fatty fishes, lean read meat, organic chicken, beans, etc. The anti-inflammatory foods are going to come from the plant family. If you are not eating enough or not eating any vegetables post-work out, you are not giving your body the anti-inflammatory nutrients it needs. Focus on any vegetables, especially leafy greens ( put them in a smoothie!) Turmeric is an excellent anti-inflammatory spice. Using turmeric and cinnamon in your smoothies can really help the body recover. Fall is a great time to really load up on foods with pumpkin and sweet potatoes. They are packed full of nutrients that are fabulous for athletes!
Good anti-inflammatory foods:
What if you are cramping after a work out or meet? You body is telling you something. Cramping is a sign of lack of Potassium and Magnesium. If you are prone to any cramping after work outs the focus needs to be on getting more fruits and veggies with these vitamins and minerals. Good foods to incorporate into your diet for cramps:
If you are not going to eat fruits and veggies ( at least half your plate in plants!) you may need to take a supplement. A multivitamin or a magnesium supplement may be needed for reversing cramping in a young athlete who refuses fruits and veggies.
The bottom line is that the big old plate of french fries that are likely fried in hydrogenated oils has nothing to help the body recover. An athletes performance is only as good as what he or she is priming the machine with. How do you get a teen athlete to eat better? They have to hear the message at home every day. They may not always listen but the constant message will stick over time. If they at least start eating more plants at home its a start to make the jump to being willing to eat healthier options in front of friends. They can be the leaders of their friends. They just need to jump start and support of us parents.
Are you interested in a mother/daughter, mother/son or teen athlete workshop? Let me know and we can hit some topics that might be on your mind for keeping your athlete healthy and strong!